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‘We might do him more damage. It’s always safer to wait for the professionals,’ I advised. ‘And believe me, this guy is not worth the effort.’

She shook her head in dismay. ‘One minute you’re walking along the street, minding your own business and munching on a banana, and the next a tree is lying on top of you.’

I nibbled my bottom lip. ‘I wouldn’t really say tree. Most of the tree is still standing.’ I eyed the banana, which was still in his hand. Hmm. I glanced at the woman. ‘Do you have a phone? You should call the police.’

Cheeks flushed from her exertions, she swung her head towards me and gaped. ‘Police? This man needs an ambulance!’

‘He was running down the street with a gun in his hand,’ I pointed out.

‘Gun? But…’ She faltered as she looked down. Reversal runes are complicated for most witches, especially when you only have a second or two to spare and you are technically only a First Level Neophyte. But I’m not most witches.

The brunette’s mouth dropped open and she took a step backwards. ‘I swear that was a banana.’

I offered a reassuring smile. ‘Shock will do that to you. Your brain panicked when it saw the gun and didn’t want to register the truth. It’s fairly common during stressful situations.’

She passed a hand over her eyes. ‘I’m normally very calm under pressure. But it’s been a long day.’

I certainly agreed with her on that point. I thought mournfully of my sofa and the time it would take to give a statement to the police. Arse.

***

It was very dark by the time I made it back to my block of flats and the sting of cold was definitely in the air. My timing sucked. If things had gone to plan, I could have grabbed my usual parking place beside the door. Instead it seemed that all my neighbours were already back from work and had nabbed the best spots. I scowled and trudged to my front door. I needed a long, hot bath with candles and chocolate and wine. Lots of wine.

‘Ivy!’

The chirpy call from the other side of the street made my heart sink but I pasted a smile on my face and turned towards Eve. ‘Hey, you just back from work?’

She jogged over, her shiny ponytail swinging, and beamed at me revealing perfect white teeth. ‘I clocked off at six so I took advantage of the early finish to go for a run.’

I looked her Lycra-clad body up and down. ‘Good for you,’ I murmured. Not that I thought six at night was an early finish, given that she was up and out the door by five thirty most mornings. The reason I knew that was because last month I’d binge-watched several episodes of Enchantment and only crawled to my pillow when the sun was rising and she was leaving for work.

‘You should come with me some time. It’s a really invigorating way to end the day.’

I resisted the urge to point out that she is tall, fit and lithe whilst I tend more to short and plump, with breasts that have the potential to take out one of my eyes, even when I’m wearing the most advanced sports bra on the market. I like Eve, but she isn’t the kind of person who takes ‘hell no’ as an answer. It was far safer not to give any response and hope that she’d quickly move on to another topic.

‘How is work these days?’ I asked.

Fortunately, my mention of her favourite subject made her eyes brighten and all thoughts of forcing me to join her fitness regime fled. ‘It’s good. Really good. I’ve got all the basic runes down pat and I’m pretty confident with Myomancy. My supervisor reckons I’ll be ready to take the Second Order exams next month. There’s even a chance that I’ll be moved to Arcane Branch.’

I watched as she bounced from toe to toe at the thought. Eve lived, breathed and probably dreamed the Order. Or rather The Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment to give it its official title. Most people don’t bother to use its full title, probably because it sounds less like the all-encompassing, all-powerful magical organisation for almost every witch in the United Kingdom and more like a happy clappy hippy enclave.

‘Are you sure you’ll like Arcane Branch?’ I asked. ‘Aren’t those guys a bit too much strait-laced geeks and sombre Simons?’

‘Ivy!’ She punched my arm playfully but with such unintended force that I flinched. ‘Arcane Branch is where it’s at! Of course, they’re serious – their job is the most important in the country. Without them, there’d be chaos on the streets.’ She raised her eyebrows in admonishment. ‘They deserve our utmost respect.’

Yeah, yeah. I didn’t want to rain on Eve’s parade. ‘You’re right,’ I lied. ‘They’re wonderful.’

She nodded with the fervent zeal of a true believer. ‘I hope I’m good enough to meet their criteria and join them.’

I shook my head. ‘Are you kidding? If they don’t want you, it’s because they’re worried that you’ll show them all up.’ I wasn’t lying; Eve might be a little too enthusiastic about the Order for my liking but I couldn’t deny her dedication or her ability. ‘They’d be lucky to have you.’

She smiled. ‘Thanks, Ivy.’ She paused. ‘Anyway, how was your day?’

I dismissed her question easily. ‘Same old, same old.’ I grinned at her. ‘You know me. And, before you say anything, don’t worry. I’ve not forgotten that you’re away tomorrow.’

‘You’re sure it’s alright? I’d take him with me but…’

‘You don’t want to advertise that you’re a witch.’

Eve grimaced. ‘Not in this case. It’s going to require a delicate touch. I’ll only be gone for four or five nights.’

‘I’m more than happy to look after your familiar, Eve. Honestly.’ Cats I could manage, especially when they weren’t my own furry little bastard.

‘I’ll owe you big time.’

I only just stopped myself from suggesting that she cleaned my flat as payment. We entered the main door and Eve headed straight for the stairs, casting a glance over her shoulder in my direction when she realised I wasn’t following.

‘I’ve sprained my ankle,’ I told her. ‘Old sports injury. I’m going to take the lift.’

She frowned. ‘That’s sounds painful. Let me know if you want any bandages. I know a great physiotherapist, too.’

I waved her off. ‘I’ll be fine. But thanks.’ I nodded towards the stairs. ‘You go on.’

‘If you’re sure…’

Good grief. I had to come up with some better excuses. I was actually starting to feel guilty. ‘I am.’

‘Well, take care.’ Eve smiled brightly and started to sprint up the first flight. ‘See you later, Ivy!’

I punched the lift button and slumped against the wall. It was hard work watching Eve.

***

As soon as I got inside the door, I dumped my bag and lurched for the sofa, flopping down face-first. Bliss.

From somewhere above me, there was an irritated hiss. ‘Food.’

I strained my head upwards. ‘Hi, Brutus.’

His yellow eyes stared down at me, unblinking. ‘Food, bitch.’

I sighed. ‘I’ve told you time and time again. If you call me that, I’m not going to feed you.’

‘Food.’

‘Give me a minute.’

‘Food.’

‘I’d like the chance to get a cup of tea first.’

‘Food.’

‘Piss off.’

‘Food.’

I muttered a curse, got up and hobbled to the small but perfectly formed galley kitchen. The remnants of this morning’s breakfast lay on the counter. I swept all the dishes into the sink and turned on the tap while Brutus kept up his nagging. ‘Food. Food. Foooooooooood.’

I sighed, found a clean bowl and opened a tin, gagging slightly at the familiar scent of processed tuna. I scooped some out with a spoon and presented it to him. Brutus stepped up and sniffed delicately. I turned away to close off the tap.

‘Food.’

I gritted my teeth. ‘I just gave you food.’

He pawed at the bowl and looked utterly disgusted with tonight’s offering. I gazed at him in exasperation. ‘You liked this one last week.’ His head turned away. He wouldn’t even look at it. ‘Brutus…’

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